Accuracy in Media

Gun rights opponents in the media hyped a show that aired over the weekend in which British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen gets conservative members of Congress and other activists to back a plan to teach children to use guns to defend themselves.

Cohen, disguised as an Israeli anti-terror expert, gets two U.S. congressmen and two noted gun activists to appear to endorse a program of training kids as young as 4 to handle firearms. The segment includes a spoof instructional video featuring “gunimals” – weapons mounted on soft toys – that kids could use if their schools were attacked.

Many members of the media had fun with it, but Al Jazeera led the way in using the show as a pretext for anti-gun propaganda.

“Republican politicians in the U.S. have endorsed a gun program where four-year-olds are trained to use military-grade weaponry on Sacha Baron Cohen’s new comedy series, ‘Who is America?’” it led its story.

“In America, there’s this big problem of shootings in schools,” Baron Cohen says to one of his guests. “The NRA want to arm the teachers. This is crazy. You should be arming the children.”

One of those Cohen “duped” – former Rep. Joe Walsh (R.-Ill.) – later said he had been “fooled” by the stunt but “was against arming of kindergarteners.”

Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R.-Calif.) said that teaching children how to handle guns “might actually make us safer.”

Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.C.) said, “A 3-year-old cannot defend itself from an assault rifle by throwing a Hello Kitty pencil case at it. Our founding fathers did not put an age limit on the Second Amendment.”

Philip Van Cleave, head of the Virginia Civil Defense League, a pro-gun organization, helped create the training video for the show and told Cohen “I’ve been pushing something along this line for years but really haven’t gotten any traction. We were thinking 7th or 8th grade – you’ve gone much younger than that.”

Later, we get the background and context for Cohen’s skit.

“Nearly six years after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults, the US continues to suffer from a gun violence epidemic.”

“Authorities have failed to pass any legislation to prevent a similar massacre, and according to gun control advocacy group Newtown, about 300 school shootings have taken place since 2013.”

The Washington Post reported that the total of school shootings presented by Everytown for Gun Safety, the Michael Bloomberg-funded group that formed after the Newtown shootings, is wildly inflated.

The day after the murder of 18 people at a high school in Florida last February, the Post wrote that “Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings.”

As examples, it referenced a 31-year-old man in Michigan who parked outside an elementary school and called police to say he was armed and suicidal. He shot himself seven hours later, but the school where he was parked had been closed for seven months.

It counted as a school shooting an incident at Wake Forest University in which a man was shot at a sorority event at 1 a.m., and another at a Michigan high school in which someone shot a gun in the parking lot at 8 p.m., while a basketball game was being played inside the school.

None of the stories mocking the Republican congressmen and gun activists mentioned that teaching gun safety to kids is not uncommon or unsafe

Nor do any take issue with Cohen’s claims or those of others that school shootings are a growing problem in America. In fact, shootings and deaths from them are down considerably over the last 20 years.

Photo by liborius

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